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Gemstar-TV Lands IPG License Pacts from Samsung, Sharp

In an effort to stay atop the fast-changing market for electronic program listing, Gemstar-TV Guide International on Wednesday announced two big consumer electronics giants, Samsung Electronics and Sharp, as the latest licensees of its TV Guide On Screen interactive programming guide (IPG) services.

The Los Angeles-based company, which has long dominated the IPG market thanks in part to its arsenal of patented electronic programming guide (EPG) technologies, said it will provide the interactive services under a multi-year licensing agreement with Samsung covering a wide range of digital televisions and digital recording devices in the North America market. The agreement with Sharp covers LCD televisions and digital recording devices in North America, Europe (where the company markets its service under the name "Guide Plus+") and Japan (under the name "G-Guide").

Sharp will pay license fees to Gemstar-TV Guide based on the number of units sold that include the licensed technology. The agreement does not include a minimum commitment. As with Sharp, Samsung will pay license fees to Gemstar-TV Guide based on the number of units sold that include the licensed technology.

The deals come at a time when the entire EPG field -- arguably pioneered by Gemstar -- is experiencing a sea change that analysts foresee will affect the industry for years to come. Video-on-demand and personalized video recording services are exposing the Gemstars of the world to new competitors by forcing them to migrate toward next-generation technologies that can provide more interactive portals , Gerry Kaufhold, analyst at In-stat/MDR, recently wrote in a research report.

Indeed, even though Microsoft itself is one of Gemstar's many licensees, the Redmond, Wash.-based giant recently struck separate deals with Nikkan Hensyu in Japan and Broadcasting Dataservices in Europe to provide guide-level services for international versions of its much-touted Windows XP Media Center.

In addition, Kaufhold noted previous court rulings now greatly inhibit Gemstar from pursuing a key tactic -- aggressively enforcing those 600-plus patents in a court of law.

But company officials disagree with Kaufhold's view that the recent developments expose Gemstar's jugular.

"Microsoft has some initiatives for delivering video over IP. But it's competitive to what the cable operators are doing," explained Ian Aaron, Gemstar's new president of TV Guide Television Group. And in the arena of electronic guide listing services, the multiple system operators (MSOs) represent a much larger piece of the pie.

"We're more of an agnostic IPG layer in partnership with the cable operators. We're in 11 million homes today," Aaron explained.

To that end, Microsoft recently struck a deal with Time Warner Cable to test out a re-architected version of Microsoft's interactive television software, which serves as middleware in cable head ends. But Aaron explained that Microsoft's iTV group still licenses the IPG technology from Gemstar.

"They are using some of our IP. If they win, we win," the Gemstar official said.